Life & Style

Uniqlo in the slow lane

Inside Uniqlo   | Photo Credit: James North

Inside the breathtaking neoclassical Somerset House’s labyrinthine, vault-like rooms are spaces that don’t fit into the structure’s old-world charm. Coats of myriad colours are suspended from the ceiling in a way that show off their silhouettes. A little ahead, strips of flowing fabric cascade, inviting visitors with a tactile lure. Videos play on screens with abandon. Welcome to Japanese retail brand Uniqlo’s exhibition, The Art and Science of Lifewear – New Form Follows Function.

Rebekka Bay, creative director at Uniqlo, says, “Lifewear is an overarching permanent concept that we revisit season after season. The intent is to create products that will make people’s lives better in terms of easy to wear and care and even combine [with other brands].” The showcase in London reflects the 70-year-old brand’s commitment to these tenets. For instance, the ‘50 Colours of Socks’ in a mirrored room presents their full colour palette.

The ‘50 Colours of Socks’ installation

The ‘50 Colours of Socks’ installation   | Photo Credit: MARC SETHI

Then there’s the demonstration of Heattech fabric through a giant display of its technology. Other immersive nooks explore the science behind innovations like the AIRism, Blocktech and Ultra Light Down fabrics. “We use a lot of technical innovation. We are seeking perfection, so people can use [the products] for 10 or 20 years,” says Yukihiro Katsuta, group senior vice president, and head of research and development.

The AIRism exhibit

The AIRism exhibit   | Photo Credit: James North

Going desi

In the first week of October, Uniqlo will open their first Indian store in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj. “We feel that this is the right time in terms of the market and our company’s growth strategy. India is an important part of our global expansion, and that is why for the first time, we are entering a new market with three separate stores,” says Tomohiko Sei, Uniqlo India CEO. They have already collaborated with Delhi-based fashion designer Rina Singh (of Eka) to launch the ‘Kurta Collection’, as part of the 2019 Fall/Winter offering.

Uniqlo's LifeWear comes to Somerset House in London
 

While the brand is often referred to as “fast fashion” in the same vein as Zara or H&M, brand representatives beg to differ, stating that their styles are timeless, irrespective of runway trends. That said, the price points are similar, at ₹990 to ₹1,990 for the Uniqlo T-shirt, while HeatTech and AIRism start at ₹990, and the knitwear from ₹2,990. E-commerce plans are on hold till the three stores are up and running.

Sense and sustainability
  • Committing to use only 100% sustainable cotton in products by 2025
  • Reducing single-use plastic in shopping bags for store and product packaging by 85% by 2020
  • Partnering with Canopy, an organisation that works with the forest industry’s biggest customers to help shape their purchasing practices

Labour and the environment

Long before sustainability drove the retail industry, Uniqlo realised the potential in both an environmental and capitalist capacity. A 19-year partnership with Toray Industries, a textile conglomerate, is testament to that. To date, their most successful creation, HeatTech has sold more than a billion products all over the world. The innerwear fabric — now extended to jeans, socks, shorts and camisoles — delivers warmth in a single layer, preventing bulk, and converting moisture into heat. Additionally, the two companies’ long-standing collaboration has resulted in several other innovations including the AIRism (breathable textile) and Blocktech (that blocks UV radiation).

Their latest commitment to circular fashion: clothing made from recycled down. Stores across the world will collect used down items from customers, and a Toray-developed system will extract materials to be cleansed and used in new products. They’re also currently developing clothing made with DRY-EX, a material that incorporates polyester fibres derived from reclaimed PET bottles. “We want to meet the needs of the present without compromising on the needs of the future generations,” says Maria Samote le Dous, the company’s EU sustainability manager.

In January 2015, a number of labour rights violations were reported at Uniqlo suppliers in China. In June the same year, several factory workers went on strike. A year later, the report ‘This Way to Dystopia: Exposing Uniqlo’s Abuse of Chinese Garment Workers’ by SACOM and War on Want brought to light problems such as “low pay, dangerous working conditions and oppressive management”. The company acted by announcing a partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN’s specialised agency promoting decent work for all. Fast Retailing (Uniqlo’s parent company) will provide US$1.8 million in funding over a two-year period (2019-2021), to be invested in ILO research on labour markets and social security systems in Asian countries.

It is evident that the Japanese company is committed to moulding Uniqlo into a brand that will not just better the environment, but also improve people’s lives, both customer and employee. “We have a saying in Japanese, which is to respect every part of everything that we have [and everyone], and to waste anything is a wrongful attitude,” concludes Yukihiro Nitta, group senior vice president, sustainability.

Coming up

  • New Form Follows Functions: Inspired by 20th-century modernism, the collection showcases how the future might dress, with workwear that transforms from day to night.
  • Uniqlo U: Essentials like chequered coats made of Blocktech and reversible boa fleece jackets from Christophe Lemaire (artistic director of Lacoste and of women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès)
  • Ines De La Fressange: An ode to Parisian chic with relaxing fits a la 1970s sportswear
  • JW Anderson: Drawing cues from the Great British Outdoors, using tartan fabrics

The writer is in London on invitation from Uniqlo

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 7:42:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/uniqlo-in-the-slow-lane/article29469772.ece

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